A registered charity has become a fully-fledged law firm in what is believed to be the first transformation of its kind, after being approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The Centre for Criminal Appeals (CCA), a London-based charity dedicated to investigating and working to overturn miscarriages of justice, successfully navigated an SRA approvals process aimed at law firm partners rather than trustees.
Approval was given on 29 May after an application process lasting seven months. The new firm goes live on 1 July.
While other charities have set up separate alternative business structures – the Community Advice and Law Service in Leicester has Castle Park Solicitors, and spinal injury charity Aspire created a joint venture with law firm Moore Blatch – this is thought to be the first charity to become a traditional law firm.
The CCA will now attempt to win a standalone appeals legal aid contract in the procurement round expected to be carried out this summer and to start in January 2016. Operating a novel mixed legal aid and charitable funding model, with a contract it would take on clients and represent them from start to finish.
Subject to raising additional charitable funding, the centre is also hoping to recruit a solicitor with expertise in prison sentencing law in order to branch into a new area of work, particularly in relation to women behind bars.
Currently two criminal appeals specialist solicitors, the CCA’s director, Sophie Walker, and Emily Bolton, carry out casework through the law firm Scott-Moncrieff & Associates.
The CCA’s charity manager, Rachael Marsh, said that SRA approval was “a very positive step” that means the CCA “will be able to start to take on clients” if funding is secured. But the charity does “not intend to depend on legal aid [alone] to represent them ”.
She said that until the legal aid procurement round was completed and an appeals contract obtained, the CCA would continue to represent legally aided clients through Scott-Moncrieff & Associates.
Ms Marsh praised the SRA’s case manager for being “absolutely fantastic” and helping the CCA obtain approval “step by step”. Complications had arisen “because we are a charity first and so there’s some translation that needs to be done between a trustee, for example, and a partner of a firm… to make sure that the regulations are being applied to the slightly different context”.
She added: “I feel confident that we have achieved one of the things that we set out to do, which was to work with the SRA to make it possible for fully charitable firms to get regulated.”
The CCA has received funding from diverse sources, including individual donations, the Garden Court Fund, the Roddick Foundation, the JP Getty Jr Charitable Trust, and the global law firm WilmerHale.